Author and Screenshots: Mark J.P. Vergeer
Editing: Cecil Casey, Mathew Tschirgi and Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Cecil Casey and David Torre
I've always used an Apple Macintosh (Mac) next to my IBM compatible PC. Often I preferred to use the Mac for my schoolwork, essays and research because of its stability, relative safety from computer viruses, and its ease of use. I've never really thought of the Mac as a gaming platform until recently.
My latest Mac is a G4 Digital Audio system with a 1.2 GHz CPU update from Sonnet, an ATI Rage 128Pro AGP and 512Mb of system RAM, three 30 GB hard drives, and a CD-RW drive. I had been running both Mac OS 9.22 and OS X 10.2, and I was considering an upgrade to the newer OS X 10.3. However, when I went to the Mac store I was told that a new release of Mac OS X 10.4 was imminent and I was advised to wait for that release because it would even benefit my old system.
The question was whether or not it was worth it to upgrade to the latest system or get myself a good deal on an older version of OS X. The upgrade to Tiger costs about 129 euros and I would expect significant improvements for that kind of money.
The design of the boxes hasn't changed all that much. A big X is featured on the box of all releases, hardly a selling point. I decided to wait. That wait lasted until April 29, 2005, as on that day the now current incarnation of Mac OS X was released worldwide. With a nickname of "Tiger", it is supposed to have many new features under the hood that will make the Microsoft Longhorn team from Redmond "break out in hives", according to Steve Jobs. Ars Technica1 has a pretty comprehensive review of the Apple operating system you might want to check out.
Anyway, I went ahead and made the decision to upgrade. I was told that my old G4 would be able to benefit from the newest Tiger release, according to the people from the Apple Store, but I was skeptical. In my experience running a newer operating system on older hardware is never a good idea, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
I wasn't surprised when I opened the package and discovered that OS X resides on a DVD. While there is a possibility to return the DVD media and get a CD-based release instead through the "media exchange program"2, one would have to pay extra money for it. I had an old PC DVD drive lying around and tried to fit that into my G4, but the OS X installer failed to install properly and it wouldn't successfully boot from the disc. Therefore, what I did was create a drive image from the Tiger DVD with that PC DVD drive (hey, at least that worked!) and "restored" that to an empty partition on one of my three hard drives.
I reinstalled my working CD-RW drive and then used the boot disk selector program to boot from the Tiger Installation DVD partition on my hard drive. Lo and behold it booted into the installation menu and I was able to upgrade my OS X 10.2 to the latest OS X 10.4 Tiger! This is a tip that might work for others as well.
Apple has put a lot of energy into the development of officially supported and documented API's (Application Program Interface's) that will finally make it possible for third party developers to keep their software compatible with newer versions of OS X as long as they properly adhere to the API's standards. In the past, Apple was known to introduce undocumented changes in the API's that could cause older programs to stop working, though this was a rare occurrence.
Now, Apple has created "kernel programming interfaces"3, which are a well documented layer around the OS X kernel. Apple guarantees the changes in the kernel itself will not affect programs that comply with their kernel programming interfaces, so this might mean better backwards compatibility for future versions of Mac OS X (We'll see what the future change to Intel processors might mean for this -ed).
Tiger uses a new metadata-concept that makes it possible to retrieve all sorts of information from your system. The new Spotlight search tool in the right hand top corner of the screen gets busy cataloging your system the first time you boot the computer. After that, it works like a dream. My medical research sits on one of my hard drives and Spotlight - which uses metadata - can even search through the Adobe Portable document Format (PDF) files containing copies of medical articles!
One thing I like about OS X is its new look. Quartz is the new graphics engine that powers Tiger. In the first versions of Mac OS X, most graphical calculations were performed by the CPU. From OS X 10.2 and upward that shifted towards the GPU of the graphics cards, which means that every window is accelerated by OpenGL. My old Rage128 Pro is not able to benefit from the new Quartz engine properly, but people with newer NVIDIA or ATI graphics cards will enjoy many gorgeous special graphical effects. Still, the new Quartz 2D extreme pushes my system's graphical capabilities to an unexpected level of performance! The idea of a dashboard is a cool addition, which uses small applications without a menu bar as accessories on your desktop. These small applications are called "widgets", which float on top of the desktop.
It's been true that every new version of OS X is faster than its predecessor and Tiger is no exception. It runs faster on my system than OS X 10.2. Most applications are compatible with the new Tiger and my system works like a charm. I would have to agree with other reviewers on the Web4 that Tiger is the best OS X version yet!
On the professional level, OS X Tiger works great, but how about running games? More importantly, how does it run retro games? On the PC, I have been using various emulators with some of the masses of games available, but I hadn't checked those out on the OS X side.
I found that OS X ports exist of some old favorites of mine: Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1 and 2, as well as Hexen 2. All these id software games work very well. Hexen 1 has no OS X port to my knowledge and one has to boot to OS 9.22 in order to be able to play the older games, because the classic environment doesn't allow you to play software that directly accesses the hardware. I figured my G4's graphics card is no match for some of the more recent Mac OS X compatible games, so I haven't bothered with those. However, someone considering getting one of the new Mac mini's should be able to run most newer games without a problem.
I needed a nice game pad first, because emulators need good controllers. My PC's Logitech cordless Rumble Pad 2 was recognized by Apple's operating system the moment I connected it, so I promptly proceeded to search out some emulators for OS X.
Well I must say that Roland Lieger's5 Power64 was the only emulator that I used before on OS 7.6/8.1 and 9.22, and the OS X version works just as well, with zero frame skip and full sound. Cycle exact emulation of the C-64 is possible with a lot of features. Loading programs from virtual disk and tape is very easy because one can double-click the desired file to run it. Some of the games I tried were Way of the Exploding Fist, Big Ben 1984, Boulderdash, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Commando and Uridium. They all ran at full speed and seemed to play perfectly. Roland has also created the excellent Power20, an emulator for Commodore's VIC 20.
Richard Bannister6 has ported a considerable number of PC-based emulators to the Mac OS X, as you can see by the list on his emulation page above. He also wrote a shareware tool that allows more screen resolutions to be selected and also allows user definable game pad controls. This enhancement also provides all of Richard's emulators with a uniform interface.
This is a great Sega Genesis emulator that runs 100% on my 1.2 GHz system. It also runs 100% on a 466 MHz G4 systems with zero frame skips, full sound, full screen and game pad support! Games I tried were Greylancer, Volfied, Sonic, Raiden and Aleste Gaiden. One game I tried that refused to work was the Bitmap brother's Chaos Engine.
This is another nice Sega Genesis emulator, which runs slower and does frame skip when run on a machine at 466 MHz, but on a 1.2 GHz system runs about full speed with most games. Compatibility is similar to the Genesis Plus emulator, but I believe another 68k CPU core was used.
Modeler is a Sega System32/Model 1 arcade emulator with great sprite scaling. All effects run at full speed, with zero frames skipped and sound on my system. This works great with Richard's emulator enhancer tool.
fMSX (for the MSX standard) was originally by Marat Fayzullin and ported by Richard Bannister. The emulator is very compatible and runs at full speed with zero frame skip and full sound. This emulator is shareware and requires you to register. I also tried an emulator called Zodiac, but couldn't get any of my ROMs to work with it. Games you should try out are Legend of Usas, Aleste Gaiden, Spmanbow, Nemesis, Nemesis 2, Parodius, Eggerland, Galaga, Pac-Man, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 - Solid Snake.
vMac 0.9.1, OS X Version
If you want to run old Mac Games, this emulator runs full speed (and optionally much higher) on my system, at even greater resolutions than the old Mac Plus was capable of.
DOSBox 0.6.3 by Shawn Holwegner7
DOSBox doesn't run full speed on my system with the standard settings, but it is possible to change the CPU cycles and frame skip by pressing some of the keyboard's function keys, getting nice performance out of the emulator, especially with older games. This is a must-have for people who have some old DOS games lying around and want to try them out. Games I tried that worked were Tyriad, Bruce Lee, Commander Keen, Day of the Tentacle, Test Drive, Zool and Chaos Engine.
MacMAME 0.87b, OS X Version
Like its Windows counterpart, MacMAME is a stand-out among great emulators. Most classic games run very well at 466 MHz, but at 1.2 GHz most games that can be run, run great with zero frame skip and full sound. The downside is that I couldn't get my Logitech game pad to work, so for me it's keyboard only. I also tried the 0.66 classic Mac OS version to see if the two vary in speed. There turns out to be no noticeable difference between the two.
MacMESS emulates quite a few consoles and computers. Configuration is very similar to MacMAME. The stand-alone emulators mentioned above are much easier to use and have better performance, but this emulator is one to watch for in the future. It's an excellent resource for old computer fanatics and will in time become more and more compatible. MacMESS even allows you to experiment with the rare Commodore C65 machine, provided you have access to its BIOS. For now, however, many of the drivers are still buggy and slow.
Mupen64, emulating the Nintendo 64, runs full speed, but has no sound. There's an option to activate sound, but it doesn't seem to work. Not all textures work correctly, either, as you can see from the "black licorice" Mario in the screenshot. Games that I tried were Super Mario 64, F-Zero 64 and both Zelda games.
This emulator runs slower than Mupen64, so it has frame skips, but does feature sound and better texture compatibility. My Logitech controller works like a charm with this emulator (Sound and control are always a plus in emulation -ed).
Emulation for these popular systems is not so successful on OS X, as most had some type of speed issue or graphical glitches. However, all have good general compatibility.
MacFC is a Japanese Famicom emulator. The link contains a Babelfish translated link to the Japanese Website. There's also Nestopia (a Richard Bannister port) and iNes (Marat Fayzullin, shareware, classic OS only).
Sadly, based on these, Mac OS X is not my platform of choice for NES emulation. Thank goodness then there's RockNES v4.0, which is another Richard Bannister port. This emulator does go to full speed and sound on my G4, but is a very CPU-intensive program, and it sure helps to use an earlier version of the emulator on slower machines. Games I tried on this system were Recca, Gunnac, Gradius 1 and 2, Gyruss, Ms. Pac-Man, Boulderdash, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Donkey Kong.
This emulator is very compatible and my Logitech game pad works like a champ. The emulation of the sound is very nice. It's almost like you are playing the games on the real machine!
TGEmu (NEC TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine) runs at full speed, with good game pad support, no frame skips, with full sound. While it is not as compatible as the Magic Engine Emulator and other emulators for PC, it does get the job done.
Boycott Advance v0.3.5
It's fun playing Nintendo GameBoy Advance (GBA) games on a 19" LCD screen! You get a great frame rate and full sound as well.
There is another GBA emulator out there, a big one on the PC called VisualBoyAdvance, but on OS X it is slow and is not really suitable for gameplay on my system. This emulator is supposed to be a bit more compatible than Boycott Advance.
O2EM is a very faithful reproduction of the Videopac/Odyssey2 game system that works great with the Logitech controller and features 100% speed
and sound, as well as support for enhancements. I have two screenshots of O2EM, the left one is taken from Terrahawks and the other is from KC Munchkin!
One could say that a decent Mac running at 466 MHz or 1.2 GHz and up, running OS X 10.4 Tiger, is quite a nice retrogaming capable system. The number of emulators8 for it might not be as numerous as for the PC, but my retrogaming needs are met more than adequately by what is available. If you're interested in getting into the Macintosh computing scene, the new Mac mini's are more powerful than my G4, so you have to figure that that low cost little box will work even better and is a great starting point.
1. Ars Technica - A PC enthusiast Website featuring tons of articles and reviews.
2. Apple's Media Exchange Program - Tiger only ships on a DVD, but if your Mac doesn't have a built-in DVD-ROM drive, you'll need CD media or have to use my little trick with a PC DVD drive. When you buy Mac OS X Tiger on DVD, you qualify to purchase Tiger CD's with the help of this order form.
4. Other OS X Tiger Reviews:
5. Roland Lieger's Website - http://www.auto.tuwien.ac.at/~rlieger/
Power64 - Commodore 64 emulator for OS X and classic Mac OS
Power20 - Commodore VIC 20 emulator for OS X and classic Mac OS
6. Richard Bannister's Website- http://www.bannister.org/
7. Shwan Holwegner's Website - http://www.holwegner.com/
DOSBox 0.6.3 - PC emulator for OS X
8. A great Website resource for emulators on the Macintosh - http://www.emulation.net/
Zsnes is a good Snes-emulator for intel based Macs!
Mark Vergeer - Editor / Pixelator
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
Richard Bannister has updated almost all his emulators to newer versions since this article was written. Some things have changed a little - like Keyboard support. This has been dropped so in order to play Richard's emulator one needs a USB game controller for joystick emulation.
PPC & Intel combined binaries have been created - the Rosetta PPC emulator was good enough for most PPC based emulators to run on intel Macs without a problem but native x86 code running on Intel Macs will provide a more solid emulation experience on the newer generation.
Geez, my old G4 definitely is getting old. Got a pc on the side - 2.8Ghz P4 - my next computer might be an Intel Based Mac or a PC running OSX (I am still hoping Apple will liscense OSX to other manufacturers too).
-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-